DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - A little girl, her brother, and other neighborhood children were playing in a DeKalb County creek near their home after school one cold January afternoon in 2019. A branch broke while the kids climbed trees, sending 6-year-old Damaria Hooten into 6-feet-deep water.
That would be the last day Damaria Hooten played with her older brother.
Two years later, her mother, Raylithia Hooten, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the apartment complex where her daughter drowned.
Hooten's attorney, Arthur York, said management at The Hills at Fairington apartments was negligent and to this day has not installed a fence that would keep children out of a deep creek near the property.
"The loss of a child is not something anyone should have to go through especially when it could be avoided," York said. "We want to make sure this doesn't happen again, but we also want justice for Damaria and what happened her, the full value of her life," he said.
Her attorney, Arthur York, told FOX 5 the property was negligent.
Georgia law allows accident victims to hold property owners accountable for negligently causing, failing to correct, or warn of unsafe conditions.
"When you're dealing with a case like this it always hinges on whether the property owner acted reasonably in light of what they knew at the time," York said. "It's clear to us, that they knew there was a creek on the property, several small children living there, and they knew kids would go down there and play."
York said Damaria's mother didn't know there was a creek behind the property at all.
"Damaria's family didn't live in the back of the property. [Raylithia Hooten] didn’t know it was there and the apartment complex did. People told them it needed some sort of deterrent and nothing was done," he said.
A representative for the affordable housing developer released a statement to FOX 5 that reads:
"Mercy Housing was deeply saddened by the tragic death of Damaria Hooten in 2019 and the devastating impact on her family and friends. We cannot comment further as this is now in litigation."
York said the family wants to see a fence put in place. He noted this lawsuit may not be resolved for at least another two years, as courts are closed as a result of COVID-19.
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